y Jay Greenberg, in New York
It became awfully itchy for the Caps, lurking in the bulrushes with a new coach trying to take the bull rushes that annually got Washington nowhere in the playoffs, out of their game.
Last year's No. 1 seed in the East, a second-round failure, fired coach Bruce Boudreau on November 28, had top centre Nicklas Backstrom and best offensive defenseman, Mike Green in the same lineup for exactly half of one game after October 22nd, changed goalies on March 19 and didn't make the playoffs until the next-to-last game.
Now the Caps are 2-2 with the top-seeded Rangers in the second round and reminding everyone of the 2010 Flyers, who made the playoffs in a Game 82 shootout and went to the finals.
"It wasn't quite as dramatic as them, getting in on a shootout," said Mike Knuble. "But like us, they were their own work in progress, lost their coach, had injuries couldn't get it together.
"But they had Chris Pronger back there and a very good team that you knew would be as good anybody if they just got in."
Peter Laviolette changed the Flyers passive forecheck to a more aggressive attack. Dale Hunter did the opposite with Washington and the Caps are now a team capable of blocking 27 shots in a post season game, as they did in their 3-2 win in Game 4 Saturday.
"We started that transition under Bruce," said Knuble. "He laid some groundwork, but to be honest I don't know if it was a style he was completely comfortable with because he has been an offensive guy his whole life.
"Dale kind of came in and jammed it down our throats. It was good he had 60 games to do it because it was a hard sale on a lot of guys."
Back to the future
And of course, the Caps also had trouble buying a goal without Backstrom, who, after returning for the final four regular games, seemed to finally get himself up to his considerable speed in Game 4, scoring the game winning goal after playing human bumper on a hit by Artem Anisimov.
Backstrom braced and Anisimov went flying. After relaying the puck along the back wall, Backstrom went to the slot to ring a shot up over Henrik Lundqvist's shoulder for his first goal since Game One against Boston.
"He surprises a lot of guys, including Anisimov, with how sturdy he is on his states," said Brooks Laich. "Nicky is probably the quietest superstar in the NHL.
"He does a lot of things maybe only a hockey person sees but make a world of difference on the ice."
It is Alex Ovechkin who gets the predominant checking attention and the boos of respect on the road, but Backstrom may be the Caps' engine. And talented as he might be, he was not one of the guys with the big lump in his throat as Hunter has turning everybody into Troy Brouwer.
"I don't need attention," smiled Backstrom. "This is perfect."
Strong silent types
Despite only the one controversial hit, Ovechkin leaving his feet to hit Dan Girardi in the face in Game 4 - John Tortorella says this series has been even tougher than the acrimonious best-of-seven versus Ottawa that brought multiple suspensions.
"This has been a straight ahead, hard series, and in most facets of it, harder than the Ottawa series."
Lines and Pairings
Back to accessibility links